1 October 2020 Susannah

The House by the Lake

Alexander Haus, Potsdam, Germany

I do love to read history told in an accurate and highly readable way, and that’s exactly what you get with British author, Thomas Harding. My son recommended his books to me and I have recently just loved two of them. The House by the Lake was a riveting story of the ‘Alexander Haus’, near Potsdam in Germany. Built by a Jewish family, it has had a remarkable history and Harding tells it in such a way that you are riveted throughout. The Jewish owners had to leave in a hurry before WWII, and during the war the house was lived in by a musical entrepreneur who kept ‘in’ with the Nazis. The next residents had to cope with the Berlin wall being built through their back yard, cutting the house off from the lake. When the wall came down, hippies lived in the house and it was actually scheduled for demolition when Harding decided to investigate because it had been built by his great-grandfather. His interest ‘saved’ the house and it was then declared a monument of historical importance. It is being renovated and is today a centre for education and reconciliation.

Harding attended, in London, the funeral of his uncle Hanns and was astonished to learn at that event that Hanns had been the man who had found and captured Rudolf Höss, the officer in charge of Auschwitz. This led him to investigate and his resulting book, Hanns and Rudolf: The German Jew and the Hunt for the Kommandant of Auschwitz was another memorable read. Harding tells the stories of the two men’s lives in alternate chapters, until they come together at the end when Hanns Alexander tracks down the man who came up with the idea of gassing Jews so that they could be killed more ‘efficiently’. He was the man who perfected Hitler’s programme of mass extermination. The book was moving, at times horrific, and an absolute page-turner. I learned a lot from it.

My next read will be Legacy: One Family, a Cup of Tea and the Company that Took on the World, also by Thomas Harding. This tells the history of the Lyons Corner Houses that became such a British institution. I’m looking forward to it.

Thank you, Thomas Harding, for teaching me so much and giving me so much recent reading pleasure.

Have you read The House by the Lake, or any of Thomas Harding’s other books? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

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Featured image credit- Alexander Haus, Potsdam, Germany, https://www.facebook.com/AlexanderHausGG/photos/a.595489007297098/1471784943000829

Comments (6)

  1. Maria

    Thomas Harding’s novels sound wonderful. Finding a new and talented author is always a great pleasure, especially in this pandemic year when every bit of positivity is welcome. And now I know the story of that intriguing house that I first saw on your Instagram. Harding’s interest in presenting history through buildings is very appealing and I will add him to my reading list – thank you. I’m close to finishing Alexandra Shulman’s “Clothes…and other things that matter”, which is a memoir told through significant items of clothing. Shulman was editor of UK Vogue from 1992 to 2017 so she knows her way around a wardrobe. Her book is frank and delightful, with many interesting fashion anecdotes and insights into the history of clothes.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Oh that book on clothes does sound good, so I will add that to my list.
      I just so loved ‘The House by the Lake’. My son has visited the actual house, though they have done a lot more work there since his visit, and he is on their ‘Friends’ mailing list, so receives regular updates. It’s so good that the house was saved and is being appropriately used as a cultural centre.

  2. Sandra Nicholson

    I read The House by the Lake by Thomas Harding prior to a trip to Germany. I was so taken by the story that I traveled to Potsdam specifically to see the house. It took us awhile to find it and then only got to see it thanks to the kindness of a neighbour. Hearing that we had traveled from Australia to see the house, see unlocked the gate and gave us time to have a look around the house. It was still being renovated at the time but the view to the lake was amazing and I could see why the doctor positioned the house where it is. A great experience due to the kindness of strangers. It’s lovely to see the house is now finished.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Oh what a lovely story and how nice of those neighbours. I have not visited the house, but it is definitely on my list when I do get to Germany. It’s incredible to think the view you admired was blocked by the Wall.

  3. Ursula Meier-Goschke

    I read the book a while ago and liked it very much. I can highly recommend it to people interested in German history of the 20th century. The book is well written and full of surprises. I certainly try to visit the house on my next visit to Berlin, whenever that will be.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      My son has visited the house and he loved being there. I would love to see it. Let’s hope that travel will soon resume around the world, and that the virus disappears.

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